Directed by: Jonathan English
Premise: Set in 13th century England, a group of knights defend a fortress against the tyrannical King John, who intends to execute those who sponsored the Magna Carta and reinstate himself as supreme ruler of the land.
What Works: Ironclad is a siege film like The Alamo or The Seven Samurai. It follows the standard format of films like that, gathering a motley crew of warriors to defend a stronghold against a superior force, and in the process they confront issues like duty, honor, and courage. Ironclad hits all the familiar notes of this subgenre and in its second half the film manages to include a few character moments that elevate the film and distinguish it from similar movies. The film has a strong cast that includes Paul Giamatti as King John and Brian Cox as Albany, the leader of the resistance. These actors are known for chewing the scenery and although the two men tend to smirk and snarl, especially Giamatti, their heavy handed performances also push some of the underlying thematic material to the surface, which makes the story a little meatier. In the supporting roles are James Purefoy as a knight and Kate Mara as the wife of the castle steward. The two strike up a romance and it adds a human dimension to the story that contrasts with all of the brutal sword and shield action as well as mirroring the tension between duty and desire that is played out in the rebellion against the king. As the siege goes on, the filmmakers do an effective job of continually raising the stakes as the king’s forces close in and the transition into the climax of the story is very effective, as the king literally destroys what he is trying to reclaim.
What Doesn’t: Ironclad falls short in the actual battle for the fortress. The fight scenes are savage and brutal but it has all been seen before in a lot of other historical pictures like Braveheart and The Last Samurai or war films like Black Hawk Down. One of the struggles of siege films is to convey the wear of time. The standoff of Ironclad goes on for weeks but the story does not effectively convey that passage of time, relying on a clumsy voice over to explain the effects of the logjam on the combatants. Because it does this, the film misses a lot of the potential for exploring issues like duty and ethics and it grazes on a lot of these themes when it could have delved significantly deeper.
Episode: #347 (July 10, 2011)